FRONTIER WARRANTS EXPLORATION
BY ARMAND RODRIGUES
What does the earth have in common with Swiss cheese? Answer: Both are full of holes. We have only scratched the surface when it comes to delving into the caves that exist everywhere on earth. The ones that have been found, explored and documented are only a fraction of what exists in reality. As we run out of options for sightseeing on the surface of the earth, it may be time to divert our attention to greater exploration of what may be within it.
With mystery surrounding caves in general, vertigo does not make things easier for some. Then one has to contend with the dank, wet, slippery, rocky, dark and smelly conditions in many a cave. Bats and their malodorous accumulated droppings do not make things any more inviting in other caves. To learn that some were used as burial sites and that human and animal bones are found in many only heightens the haunting and creepy fear factor. In some caves the silence is deafening. In others, you hear gurgling sounds and crashing waterfalls. On the obverse side of the coin, it is reassuring to know that many caves provided shelter for our ancestors and their domesticated animals and still do. Man has also left enduring rock carvings and paintings in many caves.
To whet one’s appetite, it seems apropos to mention the feature of some caves. In Barbados, they have the interesting Hamilton caves with impressive stalactites and stalagmites. The Three Eyes cave in the Dominican Republic has three large openings where its roof caved in. The top ended at the bottom with mature trees still standing. It is eerie to look up at the sky from below. In Belize, you can glide through the cave on an inner tube. This is an under-world of 1000-year-old pottery and Mayan footprints, replete with tales of the mysterious customs and rituals of their shamans. If you fancy bats, a visit to Deer Cave in Sarawak will reward you with three million. Italy has Polignano a Mare, a restaurant in a cave overlooking the Adriatic. They also have the Mutiara caves used by poor people and their animals in days gone by but transformed into an idyllic resort destination today. Vietnam has one of the largest caves in the world. It has its own trees and clouds inside. Gibraltar has its whole army and artillery in a cave strategically facing the Mediterranean—a distinct vantage point.
At Waitomo in New Zealand, a barge full of people can float down a river that runs within. Its roof has millions of glow-worms that resemble the starry skies. But, do not open your mouth or make any noise—the disturbed moths may land in your mouth! Majorca (Las Palmas) has a stage for spectators to sit and appreciate a lit barge full of musicians, gently gliding down in the darkness and playing nostalgic music. Guilin in China has a huge cave with a stream running through. During WWll upwards of 5,000 Chinese hid in the cave to escape Japanese brutality. They had to make sure that smoke from their cooking did not escape through vents in the roof and reveal their secret hideout to the enemy. In Grenada, Spain gypsies and their animals still live in caves. The Elephanta cave in India has statues carved out of rock hundreds of years back. When the Portuguese ruled the area, their soldiers used some of the statues for target practice and defaced many. And, the Ajanta caves – also in India—are some 2,200 years old. There are prayer halls. chiselled Roman columns and arches, intricate carvings and paintings, within.
The Carter caves in Kentucky lie winding under forested hills. But the Mammoth cave—also in Kentucky—is the longest in the world with more than 360 miles of connected tunnels. It is the second-oldest tourist attraction in the U.S.A. after Niagara Falls and has offered guided tours since 1816. Mummies were found in the cave and ancient Native American petroglyphs (cave paintings) are everywhere. Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos has lava tunnels and deep-pit craters called Los Gemelos. An interesting variation on all this is man-made tunnels at the Kooberpedie opal mines in Australia. Abandoned mine shafts at a surface level have been converted into comfortable “permanent” homes, where people are not susceptible to fluctuations in the weather.
Tourists only go to caves that are safe to visit. Most are off the beaten path. The above is only a sampling. If speleology(cave exploration) is your cup of tea, that is a totally different proposition that calls for intestinal fortitude and is not for the faint of heart. Needless to say, there is an endless number of caves all over the world waiting to be discovered.